href=”https://rubiconwriting.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/draculaffcmina.jpg”>Dracula is the father of the vampire novel, but he is not the first vampire in literature. Gothic writing was established in the 1800’s as a dark genre with uncanny events and dramatic writing, and gave birth to modern horror and the vampire novel. The history of the gothic genre can be traced back to at least 1764 with The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (Gothic).
From this genre came forth many different varieties of themes including the vampire. The first vampire to appear in literature may have been John Polidori’s The Vampyre; A Tale from 1819, which was followed in 1872 by a short story “Carmilla” published in the collection called In a Glass Darkly by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. At the heart of both of these tales are remote locations and some sort of mystery around the vampire. Both characteristics can also be found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” may have even been a strong influence on Stoker as it was the first vampire story by an Irish writer (Miller, 107). Le Fanu’s work is said to consist of psychological tortures, “…his [Le Fanu’s] conscience-spawned specters show us for the first time the ghost of the mind, which is yet, disquietingly, sometimes seen by others too, so that at the end we know not for certain whether the tormenting spirit comes from within or without (Miller, 107).” Many authors such as Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, and Mary Shelley, etc… gave us writings that shaped the feel of gothic and vampire literature defining the genre as having characteristics of, “vigorous villains, helpless heroines of surpassing beauty and unsullied virtue, and dashing heroes of limp imagination and questionable intelligence (Miller, 105).” However, other authors such as Le Fanu and Edgar Allen Poe gave us the psychological horror, and any of these characteristics of traditional gothic were present in Dracula (Miller, 103-106).
Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, and the novel became the father of all vampires in literature, solidifying its place in Western culture (Miller, xv). There has been much controversy, however, on the quality of Stoker’s writing, and Bela Lugosi’s 1931 portrayal of the count has done far more for establishing the novel as a classic than Stoker’s writing necessarily does (Miller, xv). Regardless, thousands of vampire stories and novels have since been written with varying degrees of success since Dracula was published demonstrating the lasting impression of the vampire villain (Stoker, xix).
Above all, the vampire was if not created, then developed in Stoker’s Dracula. The vampire comes from a long folklore tradition over multiple cultures of the undead, “a corpse that returns from the grave to suck the blood of the living (Miller, 29).” The blood sucking is extremely significant in the legends and for Dracula. “Likewise, many cultures fetishize blood as a symbol of life and prohibit its ingestion or use,” thus an undead being sucking the blood of the living is a taboo, it goes against the beliefs of society in the most extreme manner making the vampire the ultimate villain (Miller, 29). This folklore can be traced back even into Babylonian cuneiform poems (Miller, 29). The traditions are rich and diverse across multiple cultures even to the Hindu goddess, Kali (Miller, 33). Stoker’s taking of these cultural evils creates the ultimate villain in the good versus evil plot. Further, the blood element adds to the psychological and uncanny elements of gothic literature.
In addition to being dead and drinking blood, the vampire has other features that add to the feel of the gothic novel. From Harker’s Journal we can deduce that Dracula had fangs, pale skin, a cold body, bad breath, hairy palms, and sharp fingernails (Melton, 197-198). Another feature was that the vampire cast no reflection in a mirror (Melton, 199). Other traits were that Harker never saw the count eat or drink and the count seemed to dislike garlic and crosses made of mountain ash (Melton, 199). Additionally, when Dracula confronted the vampire women, his eyes “became red with the flames of hell behind them (Melton, 199).” Ironically, however, the one typically vampiric trait that we normally see with vampire characters, not being able to go out into the sun, is not adhered to strictly in Dracula. While we do see the count sleeping in a coffin during the day, he is also seen several times out in the daylight (Stoker, 214-216). One such place is where Mina and Jonathan saw the Count in London. “…half in terror, half in amazement, he gazed at a tall, thin man, with a beaky nose and black moustache and pointed beard, who was also observing the pretty girl (215).” Jonathan reveals that the man is the count and was extremely distressed at the sighting (215-216).
Finally, we know that it is difficult to kill a vampire, and in Dracula Van Helsing and his troop killed Lucy with a stake, decapitated her, and put garlic in her mouth (presumably to keep her from coming back again) (Melton, 201). In future vampire writings these features have been mutated, but these same vampire characteristics are seen in some form repeatedly throughout the literary history. Even in the recently popular Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, although her vampires are very different than Dracula, they are still very difficult to kill, requiring decapitation and burning of all the vampire’s body parts (Meyers).
The gothic genre has grown since the time when Stoker wrote Dracula, and has evolved into what most people now call ‘horror.’ However, there is a difference in the two genres. Whereas horror is scary and may be full of the uncanny, it is also full of violence, blood, and gore. Gothic, on the other hand, is dark in nature and lends to the spooky or uncanny over violence. The scenes with blood and gore are limited and are included for the purpose of the story not vice versa. Thus the vampire has transgressed into horror, but Dracula is gothic and represents the classic traits associated with the gothic genre. Regardless of whether it is called horror or gothic, the vampire novel has been around for a long time, and will continue to keep readers engaged well into the future.
“Gothic.” The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Credo Reference. Web. 28 May 2012.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book, The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1999. Print
Miller, Elizabeth, ed. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. New York: Pegasus Books, LLC, 2009. Print.
Meyer, Stephanie, Twilight (The Twilight Saga. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. Print.
Stoker, Bram. The Essential Dracula, The Definitive Annotated Edition of Bram Stoker’s Classic Novel. Ed. Leonard Wolf. 1975. New York: Penguin Group, 1993. Print.